A Farewell to Arms 3

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A Farewell to Arms
To what extent is love an escape from the horrors of war in A Farewell to Arms?

In Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell To Arms, the love between his two protagonists Catherine Barkley and Frederic Henry begins as merely a shallow distraction and escape from the horrors of war, yet develops into mutual and devoted dependence, which is much more than a simple avoidance of the chaos and distraction around them. Love is shown to provide meaning in a hollow and empty world where nothing else inspires devotion, yet like all things in life – good, bad, innocent or deserving – love cannot last. The death of Catherine Barkley which occurs independently from the random destruction of war proves to Henry that war is only an extension of a cruel world, which refuses to preserve or protect anything in life, including true love.

Catherine and Henry’s relationship, in its early stages, may be considered as only a shallow diversion and quick escape from the horrors of war. Indeed Henry reflects that ‘By God, I did not want to fall in love with her. I didn’t want to fall in love with anyone’. Both Catherine and Henry initially consider their affair as ‘a game, like bridge in which you said things instead of playing cards’. However, it is in the hospital in Milan where the couple truly fall in love. In falling for Henry, Catherine may be seen to sacrifice her identity to Henry, telling him that, ‘There isn’t any me anymore, only you’. However, by marking Catherine’s changes and progressions throughout the novel, we learn that she is not a submissive, subservient character, and it is in fact through her purposeful and meaningful devotion to Henry that her anti-heroism comes to life. Self-denial becomes self-transcendence as the love they have willed becomes authentic. Their initially escape from the war into each other, treated merely as a ‘game’, develops into mutual devotion and refuge from the dour, dark and difficult struggle of war around them. Love...
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